How often do newborns need to breastfeed?

Is your baby seemingly nursing around the clock? Or, do you have a super sleepy baby? Here are some guidelines for how often your newborn should breastfeed.

How often do newborns need to breastfeed?

Hey there! Congratulations on your new bundle of joy! If you're a first-time parent or even a seasoned parent, you may be wondering how often your newborn should be breastfeeding. Well, let's dive into it! 

Breastfeeding is essential for the health and growth of your child but knowing just how much can be overwhelming at first. With all the advice out there about it being ‘on-demand’ or ‘scheduled,’ many mothers find themselves asking what really is best for their little one. Let us help you understand more about when and why babies breastfeed so you can make informed decisions on what works for both you and your baby!

First off, it's important to know that newborn babies have tiny stomachs that can only hold a small amount of milk. As a result, they need to feed frequently to ensure they are getting enough nutrients to grow and develop. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that newborns should be breastfed at least eight to twelve times in a 24-hour period, which averages out to about 8 to 12 feedings per day.

Do I need to be waking my newborn up to feed?

The short answer: YES! Newborns can be quite sleepy in the first few days/weeks of life and waking them up will prevent them from losing too much weight, or getting jaundiced,  and help stimulate a good milk supply. 

The removal of early milk aka colostrum is essential for building a great long-term milk supply. The removal of this milk tells your body how much milk to make and impacts milk production over the entire course of your breastfeeding journey.  Infrequent removal of this early breastmilk is the number one cause of low milk supply

How often do I need to wake my baby to breastfeed?

I recommend attempting to feed your newborn baby every two to three hours, until they are back to birth weight and gaining consistently. 

How to get a sleepy baby to breastfeed 

  1. Wake your baby by unwrapping them from blankets and clothes.
  2. Place them on your chest skin-to-skin with only their diaper on.

These simple steps can help a baby's natural feeding instincts to begin to fire up and are often enough to get babies ready to feed at the breast. Once the baby is more alert, you can begin to help them latch and feed.

If your baby is still sleepy, express some colostrum and feed it to them with a spoon. This will give the baby some calories and get them more interested in latching.

Remember when deciding when to wake up baby again to feed: Feeding times are calculated from the BEGINNING OF ONE FEEDING TO THE BEGINNING OF ANOTHER.

  • Baby feeds from 2:00-2:20 on the left and 2:20-2:45 on the right. You would need to wake your baby up at 5 pm since that is 3 hours from the start of the feeding. 
  • Your baby may wake up on their own and that's great! They may want to eat again 2 hours after the start of the last feeding (and sometimes even shorter during periods of cluster feeding) 
  •  Baby feeds from 2:00-2:20 on the left breast and 2:20-2:45 on the right breast. Baby wakes up to feed again at 4 pm (or sooner at times and that is very normal. Remember newborns will  breastfeed an average of 8-12 times a day) 

Factors that can impact feeding frequency

It's important to note that every baby is different and may require more or less frequent feedings than others. 

Additionally, babies may cluster feed, which means they may feed more frequently for a period of time before settling into a more predictable feeding schedule.

So, what factors may affect a baby's feeding patterns? Let's take a look.

  1. Baby's Age: In the first few days after birth, babies have small stomachs and require frequent feedings to establish a good milk supply. As they grow, their stomachs expand and can hold more milk, which may lead to longer periods between feedings.
  2. Baby's Weight: Babies who are smaller or premature may require more frequent feedings to help them gain weight and grow.
  3. Mother's Milk Supply: If a mother's breast storage capacity is small, her baby may require more frequent feedings to ensure they are getting enough milk.
  4. Baby's Temperament: Some babies may be more demanding and have higher suck needs and require more frequent feedings to comfort them at the breast while others may be more laid-back and feed less frequently.
  5. Time of Day: Babies may feed more frequently during certain times of the day, such as in the evening when they may be fussier and require comfort. This is when mom's milk supply is lowest due to a dip in prolactin levels. Feeding more frequently during the evenings is a normal, but exhausting pattern for newborns. 

Now, let's talk about breastfeeding on demand

Breastfeeding on demand is a feeding method that allows the baby to determine when and how much they want to eat. This approach is recommended by many experts, including the WHO and AAP, as it helps to establish a good milk supply and promotes bonding between mother and baby.

Breastfeeding on demand means feeding your baby whenever they show signs of hunger, rather than sticking to a strict feeding schedule. 

I know it can seem a bit confusing when I recommend waking your newborn, but remember we may need to support our newborn a bit more until breastfeeding is fully established.  The goal for the first few weeks of life is to feed on demand with any signs of hunger AND not let your baby go longer than 3 hours without eating. 

Once your baby is back to birth weight and gaining well this can extend to 4 hours overnight and 2-3 hours during the day to reach a MINIMUM of 8 times in 24 hours. 

What are feeding cues?

Feeding cues are signs your baby may be ready to feed.  To note, some of the early signs will happen with your baby's eyes still closed and they may seem like they are asleep, especially in the early days. 

1) Bringing hands to mouth. 

  • Did you know babies practice their sucking skills in the womb? As early as 12 weeks gestation, your baby may be bringing their hands to their mouth and can begin to suck. All that practice helps them when they are born! Before they are fully awake, you may notice that your baby brings their hands to their mouth and may even suck on their fist or fingers. 

2) Turning head from side to side.

  • Have you ever held a baby in a cradle position and they immediately turned their head into your body? This is a feeding cue! 

3) Rooting-opening mouth and moving head to one side (looking for the nipple).

  • In addition to turning their head side-to-side, your baby will open their mouth and search out your nipple. 

4) Eyes may begin to open and look around. 

  • Your baby will become more and more alert to let you know they are ready to eat. 

5) Smacking lips.

  • Smacking and licking their lips may be seen on their own or in conjunction with your baby’s other feeding cues. 

6) Sticking their tongue out.

  • You may see this all together with rooting, smacking lips, and then sticking their tongue out past their gum line. 

7) Sucking on hands/anything nearby.

  • As mentioned above, your baby has been working on sucking skills for months prior to being born. Sucking can be both for nutrition as well as comfort. Some babies will suck on their hands when hungry or as a way to soothe even when they aren’t hungry. 

8) Wiggling around, squirming. Changing facial expressions.

  • By this point, your baby is headed more towards crying and it is time to get things going if you haven’t attempted to latch already. Your baby may scrunch up their face, frown, and start moving their arms and legs more. 

9) Fussy noises...heading down the road to crying.

  • Your baby may have worked their way through all the more subtle signs of hunger and they are now focalizing. 

10) Crying, very agitated.

  • It is important to note if you are at this stage, latching may not be the best immediate solution. Co-regulation will come into play once your baby is more worked up. You can try skin-to-skin, movement, shushing sounds, talking gently to your baby, and music to help soothe.  We never want to try and latch a baby who is very upset, calm first then move to feed...

Remember our goal is to get your baby latched and happily nursing before crying and agitation set in. Ideally, you are able to get your baby ready to feed with any behaviors 7 and under, but what happens if we've hit an, "Oh shit," moment and that hasn't happened this feed? That's okay!!! You and your baby are just finding your way. 

What to do if your baby is crying at the breast?

Sometimes we miss the early feeding cues and the baby has escalated and is now crying at the breast. It is okay!! Every parent has been here and there are ways to troubleshoot.

Our goal, if we've landed in this territory, is to calm the baby and nursing parent. The goal now is the co-regulation of both your baby and you. Skin-to-skin, swaying, and shushing, all can help move toward calmness so you can start feeding Remember: calm first and then return to feeding. 

Navigating life with a newborn can be INTENSE. I promise you these marathon nursing sessions and cluster-feeding evenings won’t last forever. I know as a parent of a newborn I had so many questions and doubts! Am I doing this right? Is this normal? My baby can’t possibly need to feed this much!!!! 

As an IBCLC, I designed my breastfeeding program Boob School to be a place to answer all of those questions with expert education in our self-paced course and LIVE support in our Facebook group and weekly support calls. You do not need to navigate this alone with Google as your only guide. Boob School was designed to walk with you from the first latch to the last. 

Cheering you on, always!!



Boob School Founder and CEO

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